While competing this weekend at a rated dressage show, I was doing some ground work with a client’s young horse. We were in the designated lunging area, working in my rope halter with our usual flag. About 15 minutes in, the TD came over to tell me that I couldn’t use my "piece of fabric on the stick" because it's considered a "gadget" that isn't allowed under the rules.
I quickly acknowledged him and apologized for not knowing that rule. The flag is connected to the stick in a way that it can't easily be removed, so I tied the flag against the stick so it wasn't flapping and went back to work. The TD then came back and told me that also wasn't acceptable because it might scare the other horses and that he'd hate to see me be eliminated from the competition. He then offered to get me a lunge whip, which I declined, and headed back to the barn.
Meanwhile, the person sharing the lunge space with me had her horse in short side reins, a bridle with a halter over it, a chain over her horse’s nose, and a lunge whip.
I know that not everyone uses the same tools. Some horses are more sensitive and may be worried about a flag. Had there been horses around me that were concerned, I would have happily adjusted my work in order to accommodate them. None of the horses around us were concerned.
Today we went back to the same lunging area and I brought a horseman’s stick in place of the flag. While this tool is also useful, the training process I have been using with this specific young horse is better understood through the use of a flag.
When is the competitive world going to catch up with our current understanding of how horses learn and process information? I utilize both classical training methods along side methods like positive reinforcement and natural horsemanship techniques. There is no ONE right way. Every training process that puts the horse’s well being first, while also benefiting their understanding of what we are asking, should not only be accepted but also allowed by the governing bodies of recognized competitions.
Edited to add: Once I got home, I researched the rule. The following images are from the
USDF visual guide to the rule book. My understanding from this is that my training tool would have been legal since I was using it as it was manufactured. Obviously, if you're in this situation, it would be best to do your own research, reach out to the USDF or talk to an official at the show for clearance so that you don't have the same experience that I did!